Saturday, November 9, 2019

Plenty Coups Meets the "Great Father"

During the 19th century, tribal delegations traveled to Washington, D. C. to visit the president at the White House. The purpose of these visits was to negotiate new treaties and to impress tribes with the progress of America’s civilization. One of those who visited was respected warrior Plenty Coups, a representative of the Crow nation living in what is today Montana.  Because Plenty Coups could speak English, the tribe knew he could help them understand the negotiations. Later, Plenty Coups told about his visit in 1880 with President Hayes.

Plenty Coups wrote, “The President said that he had sent for us to talk concerning the future of our people. He said the he wanted us to send our children to school and that they would build a house and barn for each of us. He wanted us to learn to farm. He said they were going to build a railroad through the Yellowstone Valley, but that they wanted us to make peace with the other tribes in our part of the country.”

President Hayes asked Plenty Coups and his people to leave Montana and move to land in North Dakota.

Plenty Coups

“I refused because we did not wish to leave our country.  When the President asked my reasons, I said that in North Dakota the mountains are low and that I wanted to live where the mountains are high and where there are many springs of fresh water … I said that he had asked us to do many things, but that before we could give him our answer, we would like time to talk it over among ourselves.”

The Crow leaders felt they were being held hostage until they agreed to a “yes-treaty.”  While delayed, they visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.

“I was one among many visitors at Mount Vernon that day, and yet there was no talking, no noise, because we were thinking of the great past and the unknown future. When people think deeply they are helped, and in the silence there I sent my thoughts to the Great White Chief in that other life. I spoke to him, and I believe he heard me. I said: “Great Chief, when you came into power the streams of your country’s affairs were muddy. Your heart was strong, and you led them through the war to the peace you loved … As you helped your people, help me now, an Absarokee chief, to lead my people to peace. I too, have a little country to save for my children.”

After two months, Plenty Coups went home. The Crow compromised and sold some land to the U. S. government, but refused to let the railroad or telegraph lines come through their hunting grounds. Plenty Coups visited Washington many times. Through his diplomacy and strong leadership, Plenty Coups preserved the Crow nation’s land.

This image (dated February 29, 2016) is courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery. Plenty Coups' headdress is being prepared for display at the Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater Display Room by Curator Roderick Gainer (left), and, Brent Orton (right), Chief Plenty Coups removed this war bonnet from his head and placed it on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November, 11, 1921, in tribute to the Unknown.
Chief Plenty Coups was selected as the sole representative of Native Americans for the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He gave a short speech in his native tongue in honor of the soldier and the occasion. He placed his war-bonnet and coup stick upon the tomb. They are on display in a case there to this day.

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